Radio Nova: Part 2 – Chapter 02

The sound quality of Energy was uniquely brilliant. Quite natural sounding with a lovely high end sparkle.

Gary O’Connell

On the face of it, and ignoring the massive problems which bedevilled the station’s final months, losing Radio Nova was a huge loss to the Dublin radio landscape. For almost five years it had reigned supreme, undisputedly (except perhaps for the final few months) number one in terms of listeners, on-air professionalism and entertainment. To be hindsightful though, if we hadn’t lost Radio Nova we may never have experienced Energy 103. and if there’s any thanks to be given for the loss of Nova, well that’s a pretty major one.

Energy 103 spent a long time shaking off the inevitable comparisons to its deceased bigger brother. In its first few months of broadcasting it seemed to be suffering from an identity crisis, unsure of whether it wanted to shake off the Nova comparisons or to embrace them. It didn’t help that the two main rivals had benefitted from Nova’s bereavement with Q102 seriously hitting its stride at this point and Sunshine about to switch to a Hot Hits format which would prove extremely popular with younger listeners.

Monday, April 28th is the day Energy was born, following a week of tests. The frequencies were 103.0MHz and 738kHz. It started with one hand tied behind its back, Nova’s brightest star had moved on to Q102. Bob Gallico just never sounded at home on any other station but his talent always shined through.

Right from the launch there was confusion over what it was actually called. Although the station’s name was Energy 103, the news service identified as NRG News. This caused a lot of puzzlement amongst listeners, newspapers, and even the station’s personnel.
When the first logo was introduced the word Energy had the letters N, R and G in the name highlighted. Many took this to mean ‘Nova ReGenerated’ or ‘Nova ReGrouped’.

The station’s logo on the building at 144 Upper Leeson Street
(Courtesy DX Archive)

Perhaps surprisingly no other Dublin station had decided to make use of the Radio Nova name since its demise – apart from a half hearted attempt by a Blanchardstown station. Energy introduced idents proclaiming itself as the ‘Sound of Nova’ and the official line was that it was to protect the name from others using it. The problem was that it scuppered any hopes that the fledgling new station might shake the already rampant comparisons to Nova.

It didn’t help that the station struggled to attract advertisers in the early weeks. Agencies and big companies who had been stung by Radio Nova’s demise were reluctant to sign up with a station seemingly proclaiming its allegiances with Cary’s station. Eventually, though, listener figures speak volumes and Energy was, with the help of the return of Gareth O’Callaghan (who was once Tony Gareth) starting to carve out an audience and identity of its own.

Pat Courtenay in the production studio
(Courtesy of Mike Mahon)

The undoubted turning point was the acquisition of Pat Courtenay from Sunshine Radio. The self-proclaimed ‘Flying Kiwi’ brought his not inconsiderable production skills to the station and thanks to his expertise the station’s promos and advertisements took on a unique sound and catapulted Energy on to a whole new level.

April 1986

On April 1st it is revealed that Zoom 103 are legally trying to regain the disputed transmitter.

The presenters are advised to hang on if they want to as plans are in motion to get the station back on the air. Bob Gallico decides not to – he joins Q102.

In an article in the Hot Press it is revealed that Sybil Fennell had a heated exchange with Tony McKenzie on the first night of Zoom 103 and demanded that he stop broadcasting. Fennell and McKenzie are the directors of Grattonoak who own the equipment and were originally planning to use it for a Broadcast School.

In the same Hot Press article Chris Cary reveals that he used to run a bounty rewarding his staff £10 for every NUJ strikers’ placard that they managed to get hold of and rip up. He says that he used to do this himself and was ‘entitled’ to do so as they were on his land.

On April 22nd a transmission appears on 101FM advising people to ring 606422 and ask for Radio Nova to return.
On this day 738kHz also springs to life and for a few days test tones and continuous music is heard.

On April 26th 103.1MHz also comes back to life and runs in parallel with 738 playing continuous music.

On Sunday 27th the FM frequency is changed to 103.0MHz at around 7.30pm.

On April 28th, at just after 2pm, Richard Jackson takes to the air and announces that the new station is called Energy 103. Familiar buzzwords such as clutter-free are used and many of the familiar Nova/Zoom presenters return with the new station.

On April 30th a News service is introduced announcing as ‘NRG News’.

The station finishes April off the air sorting out interference problems.

Evening Herald – April 30th 1986

May 1986

Energy 103 returns to the air at around 11am on May 1st having been off since around 5pm the day before.

The News service is extended. Gary Hamill presents the 7am-11am bulletins and Dave Johnson covers midday to 6pm.

The first jingles are heard – mainly a chopped-up rendition proclaiming Energy as the sound of Radio Nova. The reasoning behind it is to prevent other stations using the Nova name.

The station is virtually running advert-free.

The line up is settled on
Midnight: Rick Dees
01:00 Mike Duggan
06:00 John O’Hara (with Gary Hamill reading News)
10:00 Richard Jackson
15:00 Tony McKenzie
19:00 Dave Johnson

A familiar Nova-like top-of-the-hour ident is now running – voiced by Gary Hamill.

June 1986

Gareth O’Callaghan (formerly Tony Gareth on Radio Nova) makes a return to the afternoon slot following his departure from a local BBC station.

Gerry Stevens is another new addition following his departure from Q102.

George Long returns to read News on weekdays.

The line up is now
Midnight: Rick Dees
01:00 Mike Duggan
06:00 Tony McKenzie
10:00 Gerry Stevens
15:00 Gareth O’Callaghan
19:00 Richard Jackson / John O’Hara
Newsreaders are Dave Johnson and George Long.

Weekend presenters include Bryan Lambert, Derek Jones, Joe Harte, Barry Falvey and Gary Hamill.

Adverts are now appearing on a regular basis.

A custom-made Dallas jingles package is introduced.

Gareth was amazing on this afternoon show, great flow very tight and very entertaining radio.

Colm Mooney

In the main panel, the full-page magazine ad is thanks to Gary Hogg / DX Archive

Zooming in to a New Era

Part 2 Chapter 01: Zooming in to a New Era

Part 2 Chapter 03: Comings and Goings